“African solutions for African problems” is a principle that sums up the African Union’s (AU) philosophy in addressing different challenges and deeply-rooted problems in the African continent. Prime among these problems is armed conflicts, whether their causes are tribal, ethnic or religious.
While these conflicts have given rise to several challenges such as the refugees, children recruitment in armed conflicts, or total or partial collapse of state institutions, their subsequent prolongment reduces the chance of ending them in favor of any of the warring parties.
Somalia is the most glaring example of the total collapse of the state, followed by Nigeria, Mali and Congo. Conflicts in Angola, Namibia, Chad, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi are also such examples. The secession of Sudan, the crisis in Darfur, the civil war in Central African Republic and the heated conflicts in Libya are no exception.
“Silencing the Guns” initiative expresses Africa’s hope in addressing the deeply-rooted conflicts the continent has been enduring that threaten opportunities for development and stability. The vision of Silencing the Guns was explained in the declaration adopted by the heads of state and governmental leaders during the AU’s 50th anniversary. In this declaration, African leaders pledged not to pass down the burdens of wars to the next generations and vowed to end all wars in Africa by 2020. The initiative was announced during the 29th African Summit in January 2017, adopting a road map prepared by the African Peace and Security Council titled “Silencing the Guns” and specified binding mechanisms to all parties to end wars and conflicts in Africa by 2020.
Objectives of Silencing the Guns
The initiative aims at dealing with the root causes of the continent’s conflicts and preventing the return to violence while working on creating the necessary conditions to achieve sustainable peace and development across Africa. The initiative is particularly concerned with the illegal flow of arms in Africa due to the widespread and destructive use of small arms and light weapons – a common feature in African conflicts. In spite of developing several mechanisms to limit their possession, little progress was accomplished due to the lack of human and financial resources, the absence of a strong political will and inadequate coordination among the parties concerned.
The initiative’s operational mechanisms
The two-level road map identified by the African Peace and Security Council points out to several operational mechanisms for the initiative.
The first level is related to implementing the general principals of the initiative through ending conflicts between and within African states. To this end, a number of mechanisms were adopted, including:
1- Launching the African Union Center for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (AU PCRD) in Cairo. The center aims at being an effective regional tool to help states fresh out of war to identify their needs and draw a map for reconstruction.
2- Forming a joint working team from the parties concerned and the executive administration, set up by the African Peace and Security Commission in coordination with the UN Peacebuilding Commission.
3- Setting up a facility within the Peacebuilding Fund to monitor measures taken to control small arms.
4- Appointing high-level officials to follow up on the implementation of the initiative. For instance, in October 2017, the former Algerian foreign minister and former AU Peace and Security commissioner Ramadan Al-Amamrah was appointed the AU High Commissioner for Silencing the Guns. Al-Amamrah was tasked with coordinating with all concerned parties to end violence and sustain peace in Africa.
5- September has been declared “The African Amnesty Month”. Accordingly, combatants can give up their arms, illegally obtained, in September in return for amnesty, until 2020. This initiative is related to Africa’s Day on 25 May, where amnesty is granted for handing over and collecting illegal arms by national law enforcement authorities on that day. The operation also positively acknowledges the good will of the people who surrender their arms and embrace the culture of peace.
6- The endorsement of a follow-up mechanism that binds member states to notify the AU Commission with their efforts to take practical steps to silence the guns in Africa by 2020, to help with the exchange of information and expertise.
The second level concerns the reduction of the spread and flow of small arms and light weapons in the continent. Consequently, the road map endorsed an executive programme for this objective known as “The Plan of Silencing the Guns to Control the Illegal Purchase of Arms”. An agency will provide a joint framework for monitoring and evaluating measures adopted to execute the plan, whether legally, economically or security-wise. One of the most important measures is developing one charter that combines all the previous efforts in this field, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and other Related Materials, the Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa, the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and other Related Materials and The Central African Convention for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and all Parts and Components that can be used for their Manufacture, Repair and Assembly (Kinshasa Convention).
An objective outlook
Undoubtedly, Silencing the Guns represents an ambitious plan on the political and humanitarian fronts. Between high expectations about its success, trust in its noble objectives and sincerity in pursuing it on one hand and doubts in its implementation on the ground on the other, we can take an objective look at the initiative and state some of its tangible results, such as:
1- Relations among the Horn of Africa states have improved. 2018 witnessed several steps in this respect, such as the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement between Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea and the continuous mediation efforts between Eritrea and Djibouti.
2- Popular movements participating in the dialogue for conflict settlement have united their ranks and selected their representatives in negotiations and were committed to implementing the initiative’s road map.
3- The peaceful transfer of power in Congo, Mali and Madagascar where successful elections were held.
4- The initial signing of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic following a reconciliation dialogue between the government and 14 armed factions.
These results, nonetheless, don’t rule out the challenges the initiative is encountering, such as:
1- The complexity of African armed conflicts widespread in many states and intertwined with other factors including terrorism, tribalism, religious creeds and ideologies. This complexity makes it difficult to end ongoing fights within the 2020 timeframe. In short, the initiative is racing against time.
2- The ultimate objective of Silencing the Guns isn’t limited to halting wars. It seeks to improve the living conditions of African peoples. This won’t be realised without development, stability and reconstruction – the pillars of lasting peace. For this to happen, economic and political reforms have to be carried out at the same time to establish the rules of democracy and good governance.
3- One undeniable difficulty is the groups that benefit from the arms trade – especially small and light arms abundant in the African market – and those linked to terrorist activities and arms smuggling. Those gangs obstruct the efforts of the initiative.
4- There are many technical and financial requirements for implementing the initiative that African states can’t meet without the cooperation of international institutions and some world powers. Until now, China and the United Nations have declared the most positive responses towards the initiative.
5- The absence of accurate definitions of the terms of reference of the committees and implementation of the initiative. There is a coordination overlap on the national, continental and international levels.
To sum up, Silencing the Guns is working towards a better future for African peoples, for even if it is envisioned to be complete by 2020, it is part of a bigger plan – the African agenda for realising sustainable development by 2063. Development will not materialize without security, stability and the elimination of armed conflicts. How much the initiative will succeed depends on a list of factors, the most important of which are to which extent all parties concerned respond to the initiative and the willingness of world powers to support African governments to realize the initiative.
Silencing the Guns is a golden opportunity for Africa to catch up with global progress and growth, participate in shaping the future, end conflicts and restore stability. What should be asserted is that so far the states’ official efforts have not been enough. It is vital to enlighten Africa’s peoples through the media, education and culture to further promote the principles of peace and tolerance and speed up the implementation of the initiative.
This article was first published in: Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, Africa 2019… Equilibrium Severs … Promising Future, Cairo, March 2019.